A Day in the Life of a Middle School English Teacher
Success Academy – February 24, 2020
Finn Freymann — an English teacher at SA Bed-Stuy Middle School — describes teaching as trying to master the unmasterable profession. Before coming to Success, Mr. Freymann wasn’t sure his experience had prepared him for a teaching career, but after he graduated with honors from Brown University in 2018, Success Academy reached out and recommended that he apply. He joined SA BSMS last year and quickly progressed to a position as lead teacher. For Mr. Freymann, the scholars are his motivation and the BSMS community is one of warmth, laughter, and smart faculty all asking, “How can I help you today?”
I usually arrive at school around 8:00 a.m. and head to the teacher workroom for caffeinating (Our coffee pots are never empty!) and collecting my thoughts. The real work begins at 8:30 a.m. when my homeroom kids arrive. I joke that waking up early is the most difficult part of my job, but my eighth graders are my motivation.
Today is different because all the eighth grade classes are focused on the Academics Showcase. The Showcase is a big deal, turning the entire school into a museum, bringing to life what scholars have learned so far this year, and giving them a chance to show off their hard work to their families and peers. So I make sure I have all the materials ready for my first class to dive into their Civil Rights display projects.
When my first class settles in, I explain that today we’re changing up the lesson. Instead of discussing The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I’m giving my scholars time to add the finishing touches to the trifolds so they can wow their families. Learning to roll with the punches is an important quality in a teacher.
While my scholars work, I bounce around the room (I don’t do much sitting) to help with their writing. At Brown, my concentration was in Literary Arts, and Success looks for candidates with a passion for and a deep understanding of their subject area. Those qualities, combined with Success’s professional development, can take someone with little or no teaching experience and make them confident and adept in the classroom.
Besides the summer training and the coaching and feedback sessions, Success also encourages us to learn by observing our more veteran peers. It’s great to see the different management styles, but we’re also encouraged to develop our own. I love to use humor; my scholars respond positively to being lightly roasted. When things get too rowdy, I shout “Creeper!” and they yell, “Oh man!” and settle down. I have no idea why a Minecraft reference is so effective, but it is.
Teaching isn’t always easy. When my second class of scholars roll in, I notice that they’re quieter, so I give them a speech to pump them up and let them know that I’m proud of how hard they’re working. You have to gauge how each class and each scholar feels. I don’t believe disengagement comes from a lack of curiosity on their part — I believe it comes from a low-energy teacher or a poorly designed lesson plan. When I started here, my instinct was to externalize the blame if my class wasn’t engaged. But as I’ve gained experience, I’ve become more humble, self-critical, and self-reflective.
Even on the tough days, my scholars are why I get out of bed in the morning. I get up because there are kids who don’t know about metaphors, and I’ve got to teach them that things aren’t always as they seem. In this job, more than any other I’ve ever had, the positive contributions I’m making are obvious — I can see the impact I’m having.
My last class of scholars are laser-focused on their trifolds; they are super motivated to impress their families! What I truly love about teaching is the current of excitement and discovery in the classroom. It often comes after confusion and struggle and then there’s this “click” and the excitement jumps around the room like static electricity. It’s contagious. It washes over the room and sparks amazing discussion.
As we wrap up the day, I tell my scholars that I’m proud of their diligence and offer them a chance to play Heads Up, Seven Up. Ending the day with a room full of laughing scholars is so fulfilling. Joy is infused into every Success classroom. It’s in the hallways, our scholars, and our staff.
After my scholars are dismissed around 1:00 p.m. (Wednesdays are half days for them), I head back to the Teacher Work Room and get ready for training and my one-on-one with my assistant principal, Rachel Mills. Rachel is a wealth of knowledge, and she reads every book that’s a part of the middle school humanities curriculum. Our weekly Wednesday meetings are an opportunity to check in and ask for feedback — which is always constructive and respectful — not only on curriculum, but on classroom management too. We have a culture of growth, and help is always available.
I can say with all honesty that there is not a single coworker I dislike. My coworkers genuinely care about our kids and want to connect with them. I go bowling and attend happy hours with my coworkers, and I know I’ll never end a school day without having laughed.
After I’ve had my Wednesday meetings, I head home around 4:00 p.m. to work on grading and studying the lesson to prepare for the next day. For me, a school day typically ends around 6:00 p.m., and I’ll wind down with some TV or a great young adult book. My evenings are pretty quiet — unless I get an email from a scholar.
This year, while we were reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I got a late-night email from a student saying: “Mr. Freymann, I think Tom Robinson is the mockingbird in the text. Killing a mockingbird is a sin because a mockingbird is innocent and Tom Robinson is innocent.” There’s nothing like witnessing those “aha!” moments and knowing that my scholars trust me enough to share their excitement.